For some of us, the more mature we become, the more we are able to see the perfection of our mother's love. But our mom was out of the ordinary. Not just because she was ours, but because she overcame all the odds against her. I have no idea how she was able to take care of such a large number of children so well, with such joy, and virtually without help. That she did leads me to believe that she was especially blessed to have known God's love.
I believe she was the most wondrous woman I have ever known, and everyone who knew her was convinced she was a saint. It was her inspiration that gave me the courage to go on during the darkest night of my soul, and I truly believe her wisdom will guide others through any storm, just as it did for me. Mom was my first role model, one who taught me about God, and her message of faith was clearer than any found in a book. She taught us that a powerful spirit lives in every human being, and that built-in knowledge lives inside all of our hearts. She showed us how to use it, and taught us the greatest lessons, not in words alone, but also in the way she lived, through goodness, mercy, and love.
Married at the tender age of 16, she gave birth to a child every year for 18 years. She remained remarkably pretty; she never wore makeup, had a beautiful complexion, high cheek bones, and naturally black hair. I wonder now if that beauty was a result of bearing so many children, or because of the deep love of the artist who adored her. Mom devoted her life to raising her children and helping the poor, all the while making each of her children feel special.
Mom taught us that the most precious thing in life is love, but at the time I didn't realize it was the same message as the one Jesus taught. I realize now that she gave each of us the key to life when she explained that God lives in our hearts. Unlike my father, she was religious, and she made sure we always went to church. She also made sure that we lived those Christian truths we were taught, and that we did the right things in God's eyes.
We were taught at an early age to respect everyone, and that we were no different from anyone else, regardless of what we thought of them or what our personal preference might be. We were taught that good manners and honesty were of the utmost importance, and that regardless of what we planned to do with our lives, our morals, values, and virtues had to come first. She treated everyone exactly the same way, with respect, and told us, "God knows everything you do, so when you look in the mirror, you will see the truth because you can't fool God or your true self for long." She was quite familiar with the smaller self that lives inside every person, and knew that one day we would see exactly who was inside us, doing all the talking!
Whenever we kids had a dispute, Mom never took sides. She managed to listen and keep us in line, while letting each of us feel understood. She went out of her way to make things right and helped us make sense of the things we couldn't understand. She always taught us that love is best expressed through action.
Mom often talked about losing sleep over seeing some stranger doing without something he or she needed. That's because she didn't believe that other people's problems were theirs alone, and that if we knew someone needed something, it was up to us to help them if we could. It wasn't enough just to feel compassion; we had to act. But she also never interfered or spoke out of turn, and never offered her opinion when she wasn't asked. Mom was calm, reserved, and carried herself well, and I realize that she was exceptionally rich and blessed by creating so much love in our family. It's the reason I write about the truths she exemplified as she raised our family with joy. Any one of those truths would be enough to help a lost one find the true path -‒just as I eventually did.
Mom taught us by example; she would have us do favors and chores for others, once again teaching us the most valuable of lessons. As she explained, without those lessons we would not go very far. She never questioned anyone's worthiness or judged what was fair or right for someone else. In her eyes, everyone was worthy, and her mission was to serve us all and lift all of our spirits, as well as those of our spouses whom she treated as her own sons and daughters, and all of her many grandchildren. I didn't always realize that this isn't the norm, especially hearing so much about the differences between families and in-laws, and the damage caused in any type of separation that isn't handled carefully. Had Mom witnessed the consequences of unresolved childhood issues, and understood that they would come back to haunt us if left unresolved? We'll never know for sure, but she obviously had this insight.
Mom often spoke to us about "the wonderment of life," and how we were all here because of her. Nothing gave her more pleasure than just seeing us laugh, and she always lived in the present moment. We would ask her which of her children she liked best, and she would answer us with another question: "Look at your fingers. Do you like one more than the other?" It was a perfect way to illustrate her point that it would be impossible to choose. She always made sure that each of us knew she loved us, and that our differences were what made us unique and treasured.
She always spoke her sacred wisdom with great tenderness and handled her responsibilities with joy, which she radiated. She was so aware of the everyday miracles that most of us tend to miss, and often spoke about the importance of praying for other children and families who were suffering hardships such as being poor, sick, or alone, and told us that she counted her blessings every day that all her children were healthy. It wasn't until after her passing that so much changed.
I believe her vision and faith gave her the wonderful family life that she loved so much; she told us she depended on God and talked to Him every day. I believe this, and that she also was able to hear His guidance; otherwise, how else could she have had such wisdom? Because of her large family, she had much more experience and practice than most mothers, and everything was magnified by the large number of children in her care.
In October 1958, when she gave birth to her 18th child, Mom was acknowledged in all the Philadelphia newspapers as the youngest mother to have given birth to that many children in Philadelphia. Alas, one was stillborn.